62 Miles Beneath the Sea! Deepest Ocean in the Solar System Discovered on Jupiter's Europa
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October 28, 2010

62 Miles Beneath the Sea! Deepest Ocean in the Solar System Discovered on Jupiter's Europa

6a00d8341bf7f753ef0115707fed48970b-800wi The deepest ocean on Earth is the Pacific Ocean's Marianas Trench, which reaches a depth of 6.8 miles awesomely trumped by the depth of the ocean on the Jupiter's moon, Europa, which some measurements put at 62 miles. That's deep!

Although Europa is covered in a thick crust of scarred and cross-hatched ice, measurements made by NASA's Galileo spacecraft and other probes strongly suggest that a liquid ocean lies beneath that surface. The interior is warmed, researchers believe, by the tidal stresses exerted on Europa by Jupiter and several other large moons, as well as by radioactivity. 

Most scientists believe that the subEuropan seas are locked under tens of kilometers of ice.  Heat is then conducted from the warm core by bulk convective motion of ice - huge chunks of frozen material literally carrying the heat away with them as they move up through the icy layer, shuffling and refreezing as they dump heat into space.

But Jupiter's Europa might not only sustain, but foster life, according to the research of  University of Arizona's Richard Greenberg, a professor of planetary sciences and member of the Imaging Team for NASA's Galileo Jupiter-orbiter spacecraft.

Europa, similar in size to Earth's moon, and has been imaged by the Galileo Jupiter-orbiter spacecraft. Its surface, a frozen crust of water, was previously thought to be tens of kilometers thick, denying the oceans below any exposure. The combination of tidal processes, warm waters and periodic surface exposure may be enough not only to warrant life, but also to encourage evolution.

With Jupiter being the largest planet in the solar system, its tidal stresses on Europa create enough heat to keep the water on Europa in a liquid state. More than just water is needed to support life. Tides also play a role in providing for life. Ocean tides on Europa are much greater in size than Earth's with heights reaching 500 meters (more than 1,600 feet). Even the shape of the moon is stretched along the equator due to Jupiter's pull on the waters below the icy surface.

The mixing of substances needed to support life is also driven by tides. Stable environments are also necessary for life to flourish. Europa, whose orbit around Jupiter is in-sync with its rotation, is able to keep the same face towards the gas giant for thousands of years. The ocean is interacting with the surface, according to Greenberg, and "there is a possible that extends from way below the surface to just above the crust."

"The real key to life on Europa," Greenburg adds, "is the permeability of the ice crust. There is strong evidence that the ocean below the ice is connected to the surface through cracks and melting, at various times and places. As a result, the , if there is one, includes not just the liquid water ocean, but it extends through the ice up to the surface where there is access to oxidants, organic compounds, and light for photosynthesis. The physical setting provides a variety of potentially habitable and evolving niches. If there is life there, it would not necessarily be restricted to microorganisms."

Tides have created the two types of surface features seen on Europa: cracks/ridges and chaotic areas, Greenberg said.The ridges are thought to be built over thousands of years by water seeping up the edges of cracks and refreezing to form higher and higher edges until the cracks close to form a new ridge.

The chaotic areas are thought to be evidence of the melt-through necessary for exposure to the oceans.

The tidal heat, created by internal friction, could be enough to melt the ice, along with undersea volcanoes - a combination of factors would give organisms a stable but changing environment -- exactly the type that would encourage evolution.

NASA and the European Space Agency are hard at work on a joint mission that may launch in 2020, and which will examine Jupiter, Europa, and another moon named Ganymede. A major objective is to determine the thickness of Europa's ice crust, which has implications for the moon's potential to sustain life. 

6a00d8341bf7f753ef0134864b395f970c-500wi

Image: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

Comments

One of the greatest moments in this century will be that moment we finally break through the ice of Europa and send a camera into that ocean.

What will see, as those dark waters are suddenly illuminated by the bright lights of the alien robotic probe from Earth?

Perhaps gigantic dinosaur like creatures... maybe the first and last image will be of their teeth devouring the earth probe!

Or maybe just tiny little shrimp like creatures.

Or maybe something else... far more strange... something which has no analog on Earth.

Or maybe bacteria...

Perhaps the sunken remnants of alien visitors to our solar system at the bottom of that ocean?

Or nothing at all.

Whatever the outcome, this is the place for us to go. I find it rather puzzling and shocking that the people of Earth (including NASA, world governments, and scientists) have not made a more passionate consensus effort to get us to Europe and finally look under that ice.

Are they not curious of what lurks beneath an entire alien ocean that is practically in our backyard? Where's the passion and drive for exploration?! (Are we really so busy spending all our money and resources fighting wars with each other... and slamming each other in pointless politically add campaigns and propaganda...)

Meanwhile out there in the greater universe, are so many adventures and wondrous and amazing things that await us. And the first adventure is so close... beckening... imagine: an entire alien ocean!

What really is down there?!

I believe a robotic mission to Europa should be top priority for our species.

@ Velocity Wave.

Tantalizing, I agree. Meanwhile, we are only now beginning to explore our own oceans. The vast majority of people are not in the least adventurous simply happy with the known and people like themselves. Most have been stuffed with religion instead of science and that includes all our world's leaders so it's not surprising that scientific exploration isn't their top priority.

Europa is my leading candidate for where we're likely to find complex life in our solar system.

My own prediction for the top of the "evolutionary" chain on Europa would be something between a cetacean and a large fish, water-breathing (obviously) and warm-blooded, omnivorously eating both free-floating plants and smaller fish.

Of course, the probability of my being right in that is pretty remote, to the point that if I turn out to be proven right during my lifetime I'll probably get much more attention than I'll feel comfortable with.

OK, this is the second time in two different articles I've noticed them featuring a picture of Io in a story about Europa.

Yes the "artist's conception" does portray Europa's possible plumbing, BUT the last pic in the article is of Io with another moon way in the background. Europa who knows?

Anyway, dailygalaxy one time is bad enough, but twice geezis.

In regards to life on Europa.

It's far more likely than Mars.

Velocity Wave said:

"""
I believe a robotic mission to Europa should be top priority for our species.
"""

Here's a recent Seti Seminar Series talk on the EJSM (Europa/Jupiter System Mission), scheduled to launch in about 2020, with arrival at the Jupiter system occurring in about 2026:

http://www.youtube.com/user/setiinstitute#p/u/28/9M3xtPuZkj0

It beat out the TSSM (Titan/Saturn System Mission) for funding. Though it's a crying shame we can't do both.

Details are in flux. There is a team investigating the possibility of drilling through the ice. But that potential aspect of the mission is probably not going to be doable.

-Steve

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hahahahahahahahahahahahahah!!!!!! ..........................................Ha!!!

you ropa i ropa they ropa.

The ocean is so acidic it won't be probe-able. Went the last spring with the pleadians. It's a drag....

Wow - that is amazing!

Hey Velocity Wave, Pick on our world leader Pres Obama who defunded NASA in an attempt to totally shut space exploration down. Will NASA ever recover from such massive cuts? Will an honest mediagician ever report on its implications for the future.?

Jimbo - that was a carry-through of the Bush cuts to NASA funding. Obama didn't instigate them, but he damn well should have revoked them and not just restored NASA funding, but increased it. Instead he let them stand.

Wouldn't be a comments section without conservative and liberal retards flinging mud.

Photosynthesis is unlikely, given the distance from the sun and the thickness of the ice. Thermosynthesis might be possible, but quite exotic.

There is other than earth life in your own solar system and abundant beyond.space travel is far easier than you can imagine.


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